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The House of Lords has existed for more than 800 years. It is not open to a transient group of politicians to change it without the full knowledge and consent of the public and after a comprehensive, detailed debate. If this sounds like a call for referendum-I have never really approved of that-it is, but it is very low key. As we know, the outcome of a referendum can be manipulated in advance by the phrasing of the question. My choice would be exactly the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, "Do you subscribe to the view that if it ain't broke don't fix it?".
I assure your Lordships that I wish to discuss briefly the basic question posed by this debate. If the "reform" is not simply to alter the composition of your Lordships' House, what is to be reformed? The current President of the United States of America got himself elected by constantly repeating the mantra calling for change. Change from what to what was never specified. What reform do we need to enable us to perform our functions better without the other place ceding us additional powers, which, of course, it will not? In fact, the package of reforms proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in the Motion in his name on the Order Paper is indeed worthy of our support as it deals with difficulties that we have. The beauty of Britain's unwritten constitution is its flexibility and adaptability. Before we give a single day's consideration to the reform of the membership of your Lordships'
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Reform of the House is a distraction when compared with the vital and pressing subjects with which the country and the new Government should be concerning themselves first and foremost. The cosmetic issue of reform of the House, accompanied by the sound of the hoof-beats of hobby horses thundering through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, is an irrelevant act of self-indulgence which the country is neither interested in nor has the time for at present. I only hope, but with not much optimism, that after today's debate the Government will accept that they have far more important issues on which to expend further valuable parliamentary time.
Lord Elder: My Lords, I intend to make just a few points. I have supported and opposed referendums in the past, and I look forward with interest to hearing what a low-key referendum might look like. I suspect that I may well support one of those as well. I am, and remain, a unicameralist, but I would like to put that in context, for I would not like to see a unicameral settlement in the UK with nothing else changed.
Under the previous Government, there were major constitutional changes: reform here, with most of the hereditaries going; devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London; and a great deal more. It was hoped that the English regions would be part of that as well. It was a coherent package of constitutional reform. That has not normally been the case in the UK. The tradition-and it is an unhappy one-is much more piecemeal. I fear that the present proposals for the Lords are very much in that piecemeal tradition.
The issue of the cost of a reformed House has been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, made the point that any proposed reformed, elected Chamber would cost at least three times what the present House costs, and questioned wisely whether this was the right time for such a proposal. I would add a further point. We are in the middle of discussions about changes to the allowance system in this House. At a time when we are under more scrutiny than ever before, it appears that we are seriously considering a system whereby if you live close to the House and have fewer additional costs arising from attendance, it will be possible to claim higher allowances than before, whereas if you live away from London, as I do, and have genuinely additional costs, you will be able to claim less than before. I wonder whether this bright scheme will survive real scrutiny. It sends a terrible message to the rest of the country and will tend to mean that the representation of the country away from London will be diminished. I will not be alone in looking very closely at the costs involved in attending the House. The proposal for a sort of half-day payment, which has all the hallmarks of being put forward in a blind panic rather than with serious prior thought, is as unworkable as it appears ridiculous.
One of the great strengths of this House is that it has always given Governments time and space to get legislation right. Not just the Government but the Opposition, outside interest groups, lawyers, Cross-Benchers and other experts all have time to consider what legislation will achieve, and are able to make changes and discuss things. For a whole plethora of interest groups, that time and space gives them the opportunity to lobby Parliament and argue their case. An elected House will not, I fear, be as willing to fulfil that function and is more likely to be involved in a battle for power with the other place.
The question of electoral systems has been raised-a matter on which the coalition partners have strong albeit opposing views. Having a different system here will mean endless dispute about the relative legitimacy of the two Houses. That point was made forcefully by my noble friend Lord Rooker. Politics is a dynamic process. I wonder where we might be in a couple of years' time. How will the future of regional government look then? I imagine that there will be increasing demands. In areas such as the north-east there will be a realisation that people need their own voice in their own area, to offer them protection and leadership. That is also true of areas such as the south-west. I know that they are very well-uniquely well-represented by the parties in the coalition. Does that mean that people in such areas will have no differences with Westminster? Or does it just mean that they will have no way of dealing with the differences that they certainly will have?
But whatever the functions of the House are to be, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of making it an all or part-elected House. I just do not think that the Prime Minister and his advisers have thought this through. I do not know who his advisers are, although I read names in the newspapers from time to time. I believe he would be wise, if he has not done so, to consult the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who has studied the subject with some care. Election for every conceivable post is now the politically correct procedure, regardless of whether it is sensible or not. It is supposed to be "democratic" and "modern" and to make the body to which people are elected more "legitimate". These buzzwords are bandied about without any thought for what they really mean.
I am asking Her Majesty's Government to give a little thought to what they are about to destroy, before wading in with the bulldozers-for bulldozers it will be. There is no way that the existing House can evolve into an elected Chamber as it has always evolved in the past. It means starting again from scratch.
There is in this House at present a large body of ability and expertise in a wide variety of subjects. Much of it is on the Cross Benches, but there is a lot
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The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has trotted out his House of Lords Bill for another outing. I entirely agree with him-I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, to hear me agree with him for once-in his wish to have an appointments commission for the whole House. What I do not agree with is his recipe for the commission. In the first place, I do not see why the Speaker of another place should have any input into the membership of the commission. Come to that, I do not see why the Lord Speaker of this House should have one either, although I mean no disrespect to the Lord Speaker in saying this.
At the same time, I think that the leaders of the parties should have an input, the Convenor of the Cross Benches especially. I think that they should each be able to nominate members of the commission. However, they should have to nominate them from those members of the Privy Council who are also Members of this House, because that way you might get people who understood what was needed. The leaders of the Government and the Opposition and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers could each nominate three members and the leader of the Liberal Democrats could nominate two members. That would make a commission of 11 members. The chairman of the commission should be an independent Cross-Bencher.
I could go into a lot of detail as to how the commission would work-it would work in much the same way as the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Steel-but we have very little time, and I will not bore your Lordships with the details in this debate. Anyone who is interested, which is very unlikely, can ask me.
As for the rest of the noble Lord's Bill, any of us can retire at any time by simply ceasing to attend. Or is he proposing that we should be paid to cease to attend? I doubt if that would go down very well in the present fiscal state of the country. I find the noble Lord's proposed embargo on ex-convicts a little sad. They have paid their penalty and some may have much to contribute.
The hereditary Peers were-as the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said at the Dispatch Box-to remain until the second stage of the reform had taken place, as hostages to annoy the Government and prod them into producing the second stage. The appointment of an appointments commission for the whole House would constitute that second stage of reform, and the hereditary Peers would have fulfilled their remit and should then go.
I do not think that the people of this country want the House of Lords destroyed. It is the Government who want this House destroyed, when it does its duty in preventing them getting their own way without a second thought. That is why the Government are determined to do what they propose. They do not wish to destroy-for destroy it would be-this House because it does not work. They wish to destroy it because it does work-too well for their comfort.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I do not have a prepared speech, but I made a few jottings and shall try to deal with them in relation to what has been said. At this stage of the debate, it is just as well that I did not try to make a speech, because I could never have matched the quality of the speeches that were against setting up an elected second Chamber.
Perhaps I may say a word or two on due process. I am extremely grateful not only to my noble friend Lord Higgins but to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who immediately got hold of the importance of the point. This is crucial, because if you are to start a process, you really ought to start at the beginning. No one yet has taken that point, which is crucial. We should debate whether we want a second Chamber. Once we have said yes-we probably will, or perhaps we will not; I do not know-the committee that has been appointed can get to work. If we say no, it cannot.
What is the committee doing now? I do not know of course, but I suspect that it is very little. I think that it has had one meeting, but it may be meeting in vain. At the moment the committee should not be doing anything. One has to consider not only its remit but its composition. Why is there no Back-Bencher from any of the three main parties of our House on the committee? I do not know. If I asked the Leader of the House, I would not get a direct answer, because even if he knew he could not tell me. This is a very important question because the whole process could collapse if a court were to hold that there had been no due process.
It is not only Back-Benchers from the three main parties. It is crucial to include the party in opposition, whatever it thinks, because we are supposed to be a sort of democracy. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, we should also have someone who knows something about the House. Most of the people in the other place know nothing about the House. They do not want to know anything about the House. They do not like the House very much. They think that we are an awful nuisance. I do not blame them, but they are not ideal candidates for a committee to improve our work.
Those two aspects have to be dealt with. There is no prospect of a compromise. I hoped that there might be, but I made some inquiries and was informed by people who are more knowledgeable than I am that there is no prospect. Well, these questions will be dealt with at Question Time next Tuesday.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, dealt with this next point in a remarkable fashion. What about the people? What do they think? Do they want a change in the House? Has anybody asked them? Does anybody know?
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Let us not forget that, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said on 8 June, the "historic role" of our House is to represent "non-partisan civil society". This is not only about elections; it is about the nation. Before we debate, we want to know what the people think. Some time ago, polls showed that the people supported our House. Perhaps the papers or someone else could arrange for us to have some evidence, of whatever quality, of what the people think before we have this essential debate.
Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, since I first came to Parliament, I have listened to many debates on the reform of this House but I have never spoken in one. My fondest memory is of the debates on House of Lords reform in the other place in the late 1960s, when a coalition of Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, both eminent parliamentarians, held the Labour Government to ransom. As we did not have a sufficient majority to impose a closure, that Lords reform Bill was obviously dying on its feet. Its unenthusiastic author, Jim Callaghan, departed to the warmer climes of a Commonwealth conference, leaving the management of the Bill in the interminable, long nights to his young Parliamentary Secretaries, Lord Merlyn-Rees and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. In one of his late night interventions, Mr Foot reminded the House of a naval battle in the Mediterranean, when the admiral had been shot on the deck of his ship, leaving his young son standing alone on deck, whence all had fled. Michael said of the two young Parliamentary Secretaries that never had such responsibility rested on such young shoulders,
There may be greater success if we keep at the forefront of our minds what I regard as some important facts. First, in our time, there have been massive changes in the entitlement to membership of this House. Secondly, it would be counterproductive to have piecemeal, individual reform of the two branches of the legislature. The Commons must be the primary House. Supply must be its concern and its concern alone. That is why I have looked with great disfavour when the head of a major spending department is in this House. Traditionally, my view used to be the attitude of the Labour Party, too. To achieve any worthwhile reform of this House and to ensure the stability of that reform, the powers of both Houses
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It is said from time to time that there is no intention of giving this House more powers. Powers are the key to the future. It is said that the powers of this House and of the other place would remain the same. That is nonsense. No self-respecting reformed House of Lords would be content with that. Elected Members of this House, with their staff and offices and with the enhanced credibility of having been elected, would demand their place in the sun. Unless a provision is built in to limit in some way their re-election-and there could be human rights problems with such a proposal-they will strive for more powers and the publicity from the exercise of those powers. Within our shores, we have seen in the last few years the demand from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly for more powers. The same would happen with an elected House here.
Michael Foot also said, "Don't ever think that you can make the House of Lords an India paper edition of the House of Commons without creating eternal conflict". We are approaching a situation in which we have too many elections-to the Commons, Europe, the devolved legislatures and councils, as well as referenda, with more to come. Over the years, the percentage of those voting has gone down. It would be a brave person who would claim that, with different kinds of voting for different kinds of bodies, the percentage of those voting would go up. What sort of poll could we expect from another tier of elections for this House, unless we piggyback that election on another one?
Dare I say that there is a problem of identifying people who are prepared to stand the rigours of election to office? I surmise, with respect, that many if not most of our present membership would not dream of doing so. Given the resources that MPs now have to carry out their duties, can the totality of their number, which has been increasing over decades, be justified? When the Welsh Assembly was created, my postbag and my surgery workload as an MP were halved overnight. For all these reasons, I suggest a different approach. We now need an impartial study, probably by a royal commission-as we used to have, particularly on matters pertaining to the constitution. The most recent one in my time was the Kilbrandon Commission on devolution. The remit of the royal commission would be to examine the powers and constitution of both Houses; the number of Members; and Westminster's relationship with the devolved assemblies. Before we proceed any further, we should do that.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, we are all allowed a personal reminiscence-perhaps an indulgence-on this occasion. My text for today arises from 20 October 1994, when I said in the House:
I suggested that there were more urgent problems, such as poverty, unemployment, health, education and homelessness. I went on to say that if, however,
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That was my view 16 years ago. Consistency is not necessarily a virtue, but my views since have remained broadly the same. As for priorities, although my noble friends on the Front Bench may wince, I will remind them that there were only two and a half lines about reform of the Lords in the 108 pages of my party's manifesto-and one paragraph out of 300 in the document, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government. In the election campaign, I did not hear much about this in Glenrothes, Wigan or Llanelli. However, I recognise and fully accept the Government's wish to publish a Bill with a large measure of cross-party agreement. If the Bill is a big, bold proposal, it will absorb a great deal of parliamentary time. The alternative is an important, significant but relatively modest Bill, which may succeed.
One objection to the character of the House 16 years ago was the unfair and damaging political dominance of the Conservative Party. In the interim, without statutory change and owing to my noble friend Lord Wakeham's royal commission, there is now a convention by which there are at present more Labour Peers in the House than Tories, even if there are not enough Liberal Democrats. Another objection at the time was, as I said, to the hereditary principle. Although I thought that it should be abandoned completely and did not agree with the Weatherill amendment, at least under the 1999 Act the hereditaries have been reduced to fewer than 100. There has also been an Appointments Commission since 2000. This is better than nothing, although it is not statutory, it has arbitrary numbers and it does not cover all noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches.
There have been other major constitutional developments, including the election of the Lord Speaker and the departure of the Law Lords to the new Supreme Court. The House has changed a great deal for the better over these years without becoming elected or partially elected. By common consent, the House is very effective in the scrutiny of legislation because it now has a greater range of experience and talent. At the same time, there has been no challenge to the primacy of the Commons. In the end, the existing elected House wins-and quite right, too.
In a debate almost three years ago, I said that my preference among the options for reform of the Lords was for no more White Papers, no more parliamentary Statements and no more working groups. I called for a moratorium of at least five years. It was, I think, the informal view of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that he would perhaps prefer 10 to five. However, when I came to examine the first draft of my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill, I softened. There was a strong case for supporting it.
Almost every Member of your Lordships' House has a personal agenda. My own is for all Bills to go first to the Commons for Second Reading-to agree on the principle of the Bill and vote if necessary-and then to the Lords for all its stages, from Second
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